The unsettling fiction, and also Minnesota

File under: books I remember remembering fondly. Ron Hogan discusses Thomas M. Disch’s “Supernatural Minnesota” novels at Beatrice.com, and I am very much intrigued.

…Disch used a deeply caustic and ironic voice, and a keen sense of family drama, to carve out a unique place for himself in late 20th-century horror.

I can remember reading The M.D.: A Horror Story when it was first out in paperback, close to — dear lord, that can’t be accurate — twenty years ago*. I can remember it creeping me out, and very little else; based on Hogan’s essay, methinks I’ll need to revisit said novel, along with its cohorts, and soon.

Yeti, Ten in Number

yeti_10

Those of you with a fondness for esoteric music, good literature, and the places where the two intersect may well already be readers of the fine publication known as Yeti.

The tenth issue of said magazine is now available for pre-order; it contains, among other fine things, an interview I did with the esteemed Amelia Gray. I am, I daresay, quite pleased with how it turned out; you may well be, too.

On Watching “Credo”

Made my way up to the Church of St. Paul the Apostle on Monday night for Credo, a concert held as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival. The main draw for me had been a chance to see selections from Jonsi & Alex’s Riceboy Sleeps performed live, and while those pieces did impress*, the highlight for me came from the Kjartan Sveinsson work that gave the evening its name. Steve Smith’s review at the Times describes it as

resolution repeatedly thwarted in favor of sustained reverie.

Which sounds pretty accurate. I was quite impressed with  Credo: the elements of the piece seemed beautifully matched and balanced, and the overall effect was deeply moving. Needless to say, I’m curious to hear more of Sveinsson’s work (which includes some film soundtracks and — based on the bio — much of this).

*-though, from where I was sitting, the electronics seemed to be mixed a bit high relative to the musicians and choir.

On Reading Mammoth Works of Fiction

So: I read me some Ulysses last week.

To an extent, I did so knowing that this wouldn’t be a fully immersive experience — I had dim memories of a Martin Amis essay on Joyce’s novel rattling around in my head, had some trepidations about approaching it without a small reference library by my side, and then decided to delve in anyway.

Having finished the novel on Saturday night, I feel sure that I “got” maybe a third of it — there are classical allusions and references to Irish politics of the early 20th century that went more or less over my head. I acknowledged this going in, which may read as blasphemous to some. Honestly, my goal here was to simply read the novel. It had been sitting on my shelf unread for years, and it seemed like a good enough time to read it. It won’t be the only time I do so, I suspect, and I wanted to have one session with the book with which I could  simply immerse myself in its pacing and its rhythms.

For the record: it left me wrenched and deeply, deeply moved and, for the bulk of it, utterly thrilled at what could be done, and what was done, with the words on a page.

Word Counts & Early November

Unintended radio silence. Holed up; working on a short novel and something that might end up being a novella: essentially, the most functional parts of the novel you may remember me rambling about a bit around these parts a year or two ago.

It’s something of an object lesson, really: word counts of the short novel and the novella are not dissimilar, but one feels like a novel; the other feels like something else, something abbreviated and much more focused. Not necessarily truncated, though — though it may also take the addition of a more bitter aftertaste for that to function correctly. And it may not function at all. Evidently, the novel-length version did not. Unsure now whether the belief that this section can function on its own is borne of realism or of a hesitation to let go. But hey, worth a shot.

Two Literary Reviews, on Word Riot

For what it’s worth, I reviewed Matt Bell’s How They Were Found and James Kaelan’s We’re Getting On, both for the October issue of Word Riot.

Here’s a bit of the Matt Bell review:

From these two stories, one might take Bell for a writer on the more accessible side of experimental fiction: a curator and manipulator of certain known quantities, sometimes making himself known as he walks among the scenes he presents. But after reading the thirteen stories collected here, a picture emerges of a writer with a much grander reach.

And here’s a bit of the Kaelan review:

What you make of We’re Getting On may well depend on what edition you hold in your hands. The slimmer of the two – the one with spruce seeds buried within the cover – contains the novella of the same title. The longer of the two shares its name, but adds three other stories, which place “We’re Getting On” in a slightly broader context, and lend it new shades and depths.

At Dusted: Two Reviews

This week’s reviews at Dusted include Antony & the Johnsons’ Swanlight:

Swanlights‘ moves in the direction of accessibility are balanced by more unsettling moments. The pair of songs that close the album, “Salt Silver Oxygen” and “Christina’s Farm,” are each bracing and occasionally shocking. The lyrical imagery in “Salt Silver Oxygen” moves from a childlike sense of delight to something more complex, religiously informed and subversive.

And The Moondoggies’ Tidelands:

Tidelands, the followup, doesn’t necessarily sound like any of the potential followups one might have envisioned. Which isn’t to say that it’s a complete break from its predecessor, either – this is clearly the same band, albeit one that’s shifted away from both the CCR and the Meat Puppets DNA in its lineage.

Comics + the Javits Center

Spent a couple of hours on Sunday taking in the New York Comic Con. Visited some of the fine people from WORD, who were selling books on-site; bought work from Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, and Carla Speed McNeil.

I did resist the urge to send a post to Twitter saying something like, “I’m cosplaying a bearded man in an Original Penguin shirt*.” Which is probably for the best, really. And when I saw one guy dressed as the Captain Universe version of Spider-Man, my respect for the accumulated obscure knowledge of the people around me grew by leaps and bounds. There was an intense amount of sensory overload there, but I have to say — I kinda want to go back next year.

*-though: if you create an autobiographical comic and then show up at a convention, are you technically cosplaying yourself?

This week in Vol.1 work

Another week, another handful of pieces up at Vol.1.

I’ve started off a semi-regular zine review column with a look at issues of Womanimalistic and Pins & Needles.

Paquita’s style here favors ornately drawn and arranged pages featuring both illustrations and test. This issue opens with a long, illustrated meditation on love, and lovers, with text taken from Carson McCullers’s “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.” Later, the work turns more specific – one piece, called “Punk Medical Myths,” leads to a longer section dealing with health and wellness issues, and the issue closes out with an account of Paquita’s experience of becoming a beekeeper.

And I contributed a long write-up of the “On the Well-Tempered Sentence” event held on Wednesday night at the Center for Fiction.

[Madera's] introduction to the evening as a whole included some criticism of intentional flatness in contemporary fiction. He praised “sentences as a vehicle for an unsettling of things,” and went on to cite William H. Gass’s essay “Music of Prose” and Don DeLillo’s Paris Review interview. Madera’s own observations, and his citations of Gass and DeLillo, placed the sentence in a realm of physicality, rooting it firmly in the body.

A quick word on notable music writing

Very quickly: it’s worth noting that Zach Baron’s “Is It Possible to Sell Out in 2010?” is one of the best pieces of music writing I’ve encountered this year.

Fast forward to 2010. How do consumers vote with their dollar? By not spending it at all. Ask Ted Leo–people are no longer buying enough records to support musicians, period. Major, independent, whatever. No wonder then, as Sisario puts it, “lifestyle brands are becoming the new record labels.” Someone has to pay artists, and increasingly, we’re not doing it. So who is the enemy in 2010? We are. Not the majors. Not Converse. Us.

Give the whole thing a read. If nothing else, it’ll make for a fine conversation-starter.

Living Safely / Living Science Fictionally

A week after seeing him read, I finished reading Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe earlier today. It’s a relatively short novel, and throughout it, Yu navigates a divide between what’s essentially an extended metaphor and a time travel storyline that’s satisfying on its own terms. And he pretty much pulls it off. The recent creative work it reminded me of more than anything was Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep — a very personal work in which theory and abundant emotionalism coexist, sometimes awkwardly, with an underlying emotional logic. (And, for that matter, a flawed protagonist haunted by an absent father.)

There were a few bits that, for me, didn’t quite work — specifically, one areference to a culturally seismic series of films seemed overly specific  given that it coexisted with more archetypal genre elements throughout the space of the novel. Still, when the novel needs to be moving, it’s genuinely moving — in its consideration of failure, and of the breakdown of the narrator’s relationships with each of his parents. It  doesn’t hurt that Yu has a tendency to veer into  extended, gorgeously written sentences — deep enough to encompass the theories on which the novel touches, and flowing enough to keep the reader enmeshed in the narrative, curious as to what might come next.

Posting on the internet about movies about the internet.

Some random thoughts after seeing The Social Network:

The way the film is structured is particularly impressive. I’m not necessarily referring to how it covers several timeframes and weaves them together seamlessly, nor how the screenplay deals with flashbacks — the Sorkin/Fincher team does a fine job of dodging expectations for an even bigger payoff. (One scene in particular left me wondering why Andrew Garfield was telling a story instead of showing it — and then the way scene paid off made it particularly clear.)

The way that certain characters are paralleled is similarly strong — it’s oddly reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the way that different characters’ interactions with one another echo or invert certain other interactions.

As Edward Champion’s review points out, this is in many ways a film about misogyny, and a dissection of what, exactly, emerges out of a certain mode of thinking; of what, specifically, can emerge from a distrust of women, paranoia, technical savvy, and social awkwardness.

One qualm: despite being a fan of both actors’ work here and elsewhere,  the Jesse Eisenberg/Rashida Jones scenes never quite clicked the way the rest of the film did (though there’s one exchange that’s something of an exception to that). Their final scene was one of the few times that the film felt conventionally structured to me. To an extent, the “social network” of the title is mirrored in the film’s structure, which never feels overly plotted and does, in fact, reflect a…well, you know.

That said: the last shot of the film is terrific, and perfectly done.

Also? There’s also something a bit unsettling about coming home from watching this film and immediately…going online. And then checking Facebook. There’s more going on in this film than I’d expected, and I suspect I’ll end up posting more thoughts here in the days to come, especially if I end up making a second trip to the theater to see it once more.

Hot damn, Guillermo del Toro

I posted this to Twitter last night, but it’s too good not to cite here as well. The Portland Mercury has a summary of a Q&A with filmmaker and writer Guillermo del Toro, and it’s fantastic — funny and smart and thought-provoking and inspirational, all at once. Such as:

He is, unsurprisingly, a big book nerd-fine, the word he uses is “bibliophile”-loving them both for what they contain and what they are as objects. “We are animalistic creatures,” he said. “We need talismans.” He said he went into debt so that he could have an entire house that serves only as a place for his books, with seven libraries in seven rooms.

The whole thing’s great. You can read it here.

Thursday Night / Readings, Music, Writing

Ended up returning to WORD this evening to take in a reading — my fourth there in five days, as it turns out. This time, the writer in question was Joyce Hinnefeld, reading from (and interviewed about) her novel Stranger Here Below. I wasn’t all that familiar with Hinnefeld’s work before tonight, but I suspect that will change — I liked what I heard from said novel, and the fact  that it involves, among other things, Shakers and Berea College in the early 1960s definitely piqued my interest.

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Now I’m home, listening to the Collections of Colonies of Bees offshoot All Tiny Creatures and working on transcribing a bizarre and possibly not-so-coherent essay from its original state as scrawls in a series of notebooks. (Presently covered in said essay: getting lost in Redmond, WA; the borough of Queens; reading a Javier Mariàs novel in Cleveland; getting lost in Trenton, NJ; the neighborhood of Vinegar Hill; Hudson River crossings; and the fate of Mark Ruffalo’s character in the film Collateral. We’ll see what happens when the editing begins.)

Bluegrass Science Fiction Music

Sunday night found me in Greenpoint, taking in the first installment of the Wold Newton reading series at WORD. Reading were Brian Francis Slattery,  Jonathan Berger, and Charles Yu, and hosts Edward Champion and Eric Rosenfield performed some bits between the readers that could, I daresay, be called ‘vaudevillian.’

All of the readings impressed — Slattery’s shifted from sorrowful to playfully surreal; Berger couched daily frustrations in science-fictional language; and Yu read selected sections from his new novel How To Live Safely In a Science Fictional Universe. Yet is was the way in which Slattery and Yu incorporated music into their readings that made for the night’s most impressive feature.

Slattery’s method of reading involves leading a three-piece band playing bluegrass-influenced music as he half-speaks, half-sings his prose. It works far, far better than you might expect from that description. And when it came time for Yu to read, Slattery and band returned, playing a subdued accompaniment to Yu’s melancholy remembrances of distant fathers and retconned dogs.

Having a bandleader who’s also a musician, I suspect, helped Slattery and band get their dynamic just right — not so minimal that their music was inaudible, but also not drowning out the reader in question. The whole thing clicked nicely. One side effect was to make me want to listen to the Dirty Three when I arrived back home, which, in fact, I did.